Bordeaux 2005 Bottle

Expensive and exceptional: Bordeaux 2005 now on your shelves
Just available from bottle, Bordeaux 2005 is considered by critics to be among the very best vintages ever. Prices for the top wines are sky high, but the critics have hit the bull’s eye – at least if long tasting lines I encountered both in New York this past January and in Düsseldorf, Germany this past March are any indication. And when I visited Bordeaux in November 2007 to taste many Right Bank wines for an article I was preparing for Decanter magazine, comparative tastings – such as the one indicated in the picture at Chateau Canon – showed how 2005 stood above other vintages.
An association of some 150 high end Bordeaux wines, the Union des grands crus de Bordeaux (UGCB) traverses the globe each year to present its latest vintage. “We have never seen such a high demand for these tastings,” said UGCB representative Nicolas Mestre about the 2005 from the bottle tastings.
The harvest’s leitmotif? Perfect weather during picking, which allowed vintners time to pick only optimal grapes. Fresh nights reduced the effect of dry stress – which marred a hyped up vintage like 2003, for example – and balanced the naturally high alcohol content from the long-ripening season. As a result, the wines convey both flavor concentration and freshness. Also rare in 2005: almost all wines types did well. As the reader may know, Bordeaux wines primarily blend Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, although some regions favor Merlot, while others favor Cabernet Sauvignon. Often, a given vintage will work better for the Merlot-driven wines (1998) or vice-versa (2002), but the 2005 vintage shined on all Bordeaux – including the sweet white wines of Sauternes.
Located in southwestern France, Bordeaux comprises some 100,000 hectares of vines yielding 80 to 130 million gallons of wine per year, divided into 57 appellations or AOCs. Some great – like Pauillac or St. Emilion – can cost between 15 to 1,000 dollars/euros per bottle, made from very specific plots of vines. More common wines – like your 6 to 8-dollar/euro bottle of Bordeaux AOC or Bordeaux Superior – can be made from grapes grown anywhere within that vast region.  Bordeaux produces as much wine as all of Germany, for example, and few low-end Bordeaux wines are associated with impressive buildings. But if you read mis en bouteille au château on the label, the wine was made from a specific plot of land (estate grown), even though the “château” could be a shack. Most of my tastings cover only the top 5% of Bordeaux, from the best AOCs and include all UGCB member chateaux. While Bordeaux is the standard for Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, it also blends grapes like Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec.
Because Bordeaux’s climate can be difficult, vintages matter most. We are not talking about the central plains in Chile, where the weather is almost always good enough, year in and year out, to at least avoid disease in the vineyard and yield very ripe if not necessarily very complex fruit. Ultra ripe fruit is the cliché of New World wine – a cliché, because microclimates in New World regions can and do result in wines of both quality with aging potential. But nowhere else in the world do Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot reach such heights as in Bordeaux, when the weather cooperates as it did so well in 2005. The result: a wine with richness, but also structure, backbone and freshness.
To obtain insight on the 2005 vintage, I interviewed many a vintner – some who had absolutely no incentive to hype the vintage – and all said they had never seen such a fine year. Take for example Yves Bertrand in the Graves region. Not the famous Pessac-Léognan appellation in the northern Graves, home to such great wines as Haut Brion and Pape Clement, but to the south. Yves was on his way to his native Canada to retire from the wine business, after having worked for over 25 years at Chateau de Gaillat, near Langon. He really did not care about sales since he had retired from the chateau. “I do not think I have ever seen such fine weather for Bordeaux,” he said. The same goes for famous winemakers, like the just retired Jean-Claude Berrouet, who, since 1964, has been making Petrus, the most expensive Bordeaux in the Merlot-dominated appellation of Pomerol. “A truly extraordinary vintage,” he said of his wine, which is sold every year, with zero difficulty, regardless of vintage quality.
But the devil is in the details. Some wine makers also noted a controversial side to 2005: widely varied dates of harvest that resulted in some so-called overly concentrated wines.
“Because the skins were very thick,” said Berrouet, for example, “some thought that in waiting for the harvest, there would be an improvement of the skins, but by waiting, they reached alcohol levels that are too high.”
Not so, says Gerard Perse of another famous property, Château Pavie, in nearby Saint Emilion, under consultation from world famous winemaker Michel Rolland. Perse did not finish picking his Merlot until October 7 – a good three weeks after Petrus – and claims to have reached the utmost maturity, with alcohol levels at about 14.2 percent for his Merlot.
At Petrus, the Merlot grapes contained less alcohol, about 13.5 degrees. “Some people say that Petrus started too early, but we seek fruit and freshness,” Berrouet explained. “The taste of prunes does not interest us.”
In the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated Medoc, Anthony Barton of Château Léoville Barton bluntly explained the significance of picking dates in 2005: “The fashion has been to harvest late, but some people went absolutely berserk this year.”
Many of these wines caught in the controversy fetch prices of at least $60 per bottle, sometimes reaching $1,000. The current euro exchange rate is not helping matters and many readers will not consider buying any, anyway.
But 2005 Bordeaux is too good to pass up. My advice for budget conscious consumers comes from the French wine adage: grande annee, petit vin; petite annee, grand vin. In other words, seek out lesser known wines in 2005 with high price/quality ratios, because one really had to be a knucklehead to make bad wine that vintage. Some off-the-cuff recommendations in the $15-$35 range include the following chateaux: Falfas, Reignac, Poujeaux, Gigault Cuvee Viva, Siran, Beaumont, Cantemerle, Lanessan, Dauzac, Corbin, Corbin Michotte, Villa Belair, Carbonnieux, Rahoul, and Chantegrive.
If money is less of an object – and if you want to really treat yourself to fabulous wines that also merit at least 10 years in your cellar – my top recommendations include the obviously and ridiculously expensive Petrus, Latour, Margaux and Mouton. Relative price/quality ratios in the moderately expensive category for Cabernet-dominated wines include Branaire Ducru, Brane Cantenac, Figeac, Grand Puy Lacoste, Haut Bailly, Leoville and Langoa Barton, Les Carmes Haut Brion, Malartic Lagraviere, Pichon Longueville Baron and Rauzan Segla. For Merlot-dominated wines try Belair, Canon, Gazin, La Conseillante, La Fleur Petrus, Latour a Pomerol, and Trotte Vieille. Top Sauternes aside from the obvious Yquem, include Climens, Clos Haut Peyraguey, Coutet, Raymond Lafon and Suduiraut.